A Job in the Museum 2

30. june 2013 at 15:46 | Thalia Contostavlos
SECOND CHAPTER
Disclaimer: I don't own any recognizable characters
Warnings: none

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......Exactly nine minutes after two o'clock in the afternoon found me walking down the cobblestone path leading to the American History Museum. I mounted a few steps, nodded to the doorman and walked up to Mr. Everson who was waiting in the hallway exactly according to Mr. Wolfe's instructions. He led me through a department of Native Americans and upstairs past a temporary exhibit of American Scientists before we ended up in the President wing. I winked at Washington, walked past Adams and Jefferson, ignored the next five, stopped by Harrison and thought he looked a lot like Dracula, watched carefully the next six to see if they also reminded me of someone and finally stopped in the room dedicated to Abraham Lincoln.
......It was about the size of our office, with glass display cabinets alongside the walls and a few pedestals in the middle. There was a gray ventilation grid on the wall to my left that emitted quiet scratching sounds. That would be a nice hiding place for a necklace but it's a safe bet to say it's been already searched by the police. On the opposite side of the room were three double-pane windows overlooking some kind of parking lot. The middle one was open a slit and secured with a latch, so that only the spring breeze could blow in. Underneath the windows was a long radiator that was turned off for the time being. I looked around very carefully, inspected the floor for any kinds of inconsistencies and checked the chandelier just to be on the safe side, then searched for a pedestal with a tag saying: "The diamond necklace of Mrs. Lincoln worn at the president's funeral" and found it with the missing artifact sitting right on it.
......"This is a replica of the real necklace, Mr. Goodwin, we didn't want to make a big fuss over the theft," said Mr. Everson before I could ask about it. "Would you like me to tell everyone to leave so you can investigate?"
......I shook my head. "Nah, I could take a look around but I think it would be just a waste of time. The police have searched the whole building very thoroughly, this room especially, and still they came up with nothing. This means the necklace must have left this room before the police came to investigate and even before the guards frisked the visitors on their way out."
......"I can't see how that's possible."
......I grinned at him and walked over to the windows. "I see just the way. Is that a parking lot?"
......Mr. Everson nodded. "Yes, a private one. It's mostly for our employees but we also accept deliveries down there."
......"And do you remember if you accepted any deliveries at the time of the theft?"
......Our client shook his head sadly after contemplating my question for a while. "Truth be told, Mr. Goodwin, I have no idea. It has probably slipped my mind completely. Al would know though. He guards the parking lot."
......I grinned. "I'll ask him a few questions then. Meanwhile, could you write down the addresses of Jimmy Cooper, Carla Strauss and Perry Winston? It would be most helpful."
......Mr. Everson agreed to do as I requested and even told me how to find Mr. Alfred Malcolm. Following the directions I was given, it didn't take long before I saw Al's cubicle. Inside was Mr. Malcolm, a redheaded gentleman of indefinable age, who had a cautious expression etched permanently on his face.
......"Mr. Malcolm? My name is Archie Goodwin, I'm investigating the theft that happened on Monday. Would you mind answering a few questions for me?"
......He didn't react for whole twenty-three seconds and just when I thought he didn't hear me at all and I'd have to repeat my question, he spoke: "Yes, of course. Do you have your badge on you? I'd like to see it."
......I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes. "I'm not a policeman, I work for Nero Wolfe, maybe you've heard of him, he's a private detective. All I can show you is my PI license."
......He contemplated my reply. "Alright, let me see it."
......I pulled out my wallet, took out my detective's license and let him have a look. When I felt like he should be satisfied and could probably remember all the personal information the license provided about me, I hid it back in my inside pocket. "Will you answer my questions now?"
......It might be hard to believe but he thought hard about that too before answering: "Yes, ask your questions, young man."
......I did, and I even got some answers but I'm not going to write it all down, mainly because he was hesitant to answer even the simplest of questions. I swear that if I were to ask him if the sun came up today, he'd mull over his reply. As it turned out, there were no suspicious people wandering around the premises around the time of the theft, which by the way is not very telling, and only eighteen employee's cars, one delivery van and one truck were parked in the private parking lot. The truck was set to take away fifty ceramic jugs from a temporary exposition of Indian vegetables that ended last week and the van brought a supply of air fresheners for the museum's toilets. It was the truck that was standing right underneath the latched window - a middle-sized vehicle with the inscription "West Side Ceramics co." on its sides and a metallic body. Al didn't know where it was supposed to take the jugs after they were loaded but his professional opinion was that it wasn't important. I didn't argue with him but made sure that my face showed exactly what I thought of his opinion.
......Back upstairs I received a small note paper with three addresses written on it and an assurance that Mr. Everson had no knowledge whatsoever of the destination of aforementioned truck, When I realized that I've found out all there was to find out in the museum, I set on my way to visit the nightshift employees with my first stop being the literature- loving nightshift guard.
......The apartment of Perry Winston was very nicely furnished with lots of dark-wood closets, glass cabinets and packed bookshelves. It was a typical bachelor's place - there was one armchair, one seat at a table, one basin in the bathroom and only one bed to sleep in. Despite all that, a trained detective's eye could see that many years ago, there was a woman's touch in this place, even if that woman had an exceptionally bad taste going by the paintings adorning the walls. I sat down on a kitchen chair because the only other place to sit was the leather armchair Mr. Winston was occupying and I thought it rude to throw him out of it. I'm not going to describe the whole conversation we carried, even though it was very interesting, mainly because most of what we were talking about had nothing to do with the theft. I've learned, for instance, that Shakespeare might have not written a single play after all, that J. Edgar Hoover and his boys hate John Steinbeck because they think he's a communist, that the "forbidden fruit" the Bible so passionately warns against doesn't really have to be an apple and that Edgar Allan Poe's famous raven was originally meant to be a parrot. Now, as much as I'd enjoyed repeating all that to Mr. Wolfe later that evening, the only valuable information I got in the two and a half hours I spent at Perry Winston's apartment, was that he likes to talk to people and that's probably what he was doing at the time of the theft and therefore he is of no use to us as a witness.
......"I truly am sorry that I can't help you, Mr. Goodwin, but I didn't see or hear anything suspicious," said the night guard for at least the twentieth time that evening - and when even I can't tell you the exact number, it should be very telling.
......I nodded sympathetically, also for at least the twentieth time, and went on talking: "I understand that, Mr. Winston-"
......"Perry, young boy, you can call me Perry. As a wonderful essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: The only way to have a friend is to be one."
......I grinned at him in response and started anew: "I understand that, Perry, but maybe you could describe everything you saw for me anyway. You might not even realize it but you might've seen something important."
......"Excuse me? You have to speak up, son, I am almost deaf."
......I sighed. I knew exactly how many times I've heard that sentence before, this was the thirteenth time. I repeated a tad louder: "You might have seen something important!"
......"Yes, I suppose I might have, but I don't think I'd remember anyway. As one of our best humorist authors Josh Billings said: There are lots of people who mistake their imagination for their memory. I wouldn't want to mislead you."
......We went on like that for at least another half an hour before I finally got the feeling our conversation was getting nowhere and I decided to leave. Mr. Winston parted with me with a kind smile on his face and yet another quote: "Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow." I took a second to appreciate his attempt at a British accent and set on my way.
......Next address on my list belonged to Carla Strauss. Her apartment was considerably less impressive than Mr. Winston's with most of the furniture being at least twenty years old, and also a little bit more crowded. Carla's mother was in the kitchen baking some kind of pie with too much cinnamon for my liking, her brother who was probably visiting the family for the week was watching television in the next room and a bird I'd rather not identify so I wouldn't embarrass myself was in its cage chirping away. I waited for her to motion for me to sit and when she failed to do that, I helped myself to a cushioned kitchen chair that had somehow found its way into the living room and started asking questions.
......"How long have you been working for the museum?"
......Miss Strauss smiled at me politely but her words weren't kind. "What does that have to do with anything, Mr. Goodwin? All you need to know is that I am very dedicated to my job."
......I didn't even bother to smile politely. "Let me be the judge of what I need to know, could you please answer my question?"
......"That's not very gentlemanly of you."
......I leaned back in my chair and grinned at her mother who just came into the room. "I'm not a gentleman, I'm a detective, Miss Strauss."
......My remark got me an unexpected reaction, instead of getting even more irritated, Carla let out a good healthy laugh. "Very well, Mr. Detective, I've been with the Society for six years now and worked as a receptionist in the museum for just as long."
......"And where were you when the necklace was discovered missing?"
......She had obviously decided she liked me for she went on answering without getting offended first: "I was chatting with Perry."
......"About?"
......"About that old lady that comes to clean our floors, Carrie is her name. She and Perry are by far the oldest in the museum, except of some of the artifacts, of course. I didn't feel like she was doing a very good job cleaning but that old fool defended her." she said it with such a sweet smile on her face that it had me wondering about her character.
......"The old fool?"
......"Yeah, I don't really care for him much, truth be told. You have to repeat everything twice since he's practically deaf."
......I smiled because I could understand her frustration, I'd spent a good two and a half hours in the man's company after all.
......"Why chat with him then?"
......She shrugged her shoulders. "A girl's gotta do what she's gotta do."
......"So you didn't notice anything, did you?"
......I got a negative response to that, and from then on everything went downhill. She hadn't seen or heard anything, she had no idea who might be responsible for the theft and all she cares about is for the necklace to return to its rightful place. I parted with her not long afterwards.
......The first thing I noticed about Jimmy Cooper was his nose. He didn't even have the door fully opened and I already had to bite my tongue in order to swallow an inappropriate remark about its sharpness.
......"Good afternoon, Mr. Cooper," I said instead, "my name is Archie Goodwin. I'm investigating the theft of Mrs. Lincoln's necklace."
......"Oh yes, I've read about you in the papers, Mr. Goodwin! You and Nero Wolfe completely ridiculed the police when you solved the Paul Chapin case last week. You have no idea how I admire you for that."
......I have to admit, it took me a while to recover from that and when I did, I didn't know what to say. On one hand, I took immense pleasure in having someone appreciate what Wolfe and I had done working on that particular case. On the other hand, I always get a little irritated when someone other than me insults our homicide department, I like to think I am the only one who has the right to do so as I spent significantly more time at the headquarters than anyone else, with the exception of certain Mr. Evan Rookard who had spent whole hundred and twelve days in a police custody in the last year only.
......"Thank you for your compliment, may I come in?"
......He smiled at me, opened the door wider and motioned for me to go in. I sat down on his blue leather settee without waiting for him to offer me a seat because I thought I could afford it with him admiring me so much. In fact, I even took some liberty with my words: "What can you tell me about the theft, needle-nose?"
......Jimmy laughed at my teasing. "I was patrolling around the President wing and about half a minute after I entered Lincoln's room, I noticed the necklace was missing."
......"And the necklace was there when you first entered?"
......He nodded without hesitation. "Yes, sir, it was."
......"You haven't noticed anything?"
......Pinocchio bit his lip. "Sadly, no. I made sure I remembered everyone who was in the room at that time and called for the security but the thug was able to disappear before anyone even knew what happened."
......I raised my eyebrows. "Is that what you think have happened?"
......"Of course, I see no other way, even the museum employees were frisked."
......That was a new information for me, because neither Mr. Everson nor Mr. Winston or Miss Strauss mentioned such a fact. "I think you might be onto something, pencil-face," I told him just to make him happy and went on interrogating him. Soon it was obvious that young Jimmy knew nothing more than me and that he was enjoying our discussion greatly, probably because it was the first time he was being questioned by a detective and a famous one on top of that. The last thing he told me before we exchanged our goodbyes was: "Thank you, Mr. Goodwin, it was wonderful talking to you. If you ever want to question someone again, I'm always available."
......I laughed. "Make sure you witness some interesting crime then."
 

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